LINCOLN — If Nebraska fans viewed Larenzo Stewart's commitment last week as unexpected or under the radar, the 5-foot-6 165-pounder has a social media story to tell them.
Since NU running backs coach Ron Brown evaluated Stewart in April at Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas, he's sent Stewart Facebook messages almost daily. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Ross Els have chipped in their own two cents in the same medium. Far more contact, Stewart said, than any other program has. The Huskers' pitch?
“Do what Ameer Abdullah does,” Stewart said in a phone interview Thursday. “Running back, a little slot receiver, kick and punt return. I like what they have planned for me.”
Don't let the frame or the low recruiting ratings fool you. Stewart didn't hit the camp circuit as hard as others, and exposure not only affects offers, it creates impressions. Klein Oak is real-deal football in Texas. Stewart's fastest 100-meter time of 10.45 seconds is good enough to have him considering a stint on Nebraska's track team. But his lengthy highlight tape — from three seasons of varsity football — is the selling point. Low center of gravity. Squeezes small into holes made by zone-blocking schemes. Sharp, no-nonsense routes as a wide receiver.
Looks a lot like Abdullah, the 2011 recruit whose biggest advantage over Aaron Green and Braylon Heard — who have since transferred — remains his talent for finding the second level of a defense with quick feet and cutback vision. Stewart seems to have that, and in several conversations with Beck, I know the O.C. covets it. A spread offense does a lot of damage right in the middle of the field. Stewart is built for that.
It would appear also that, unlike recent Dallas-area decommit Jason Hall, Stewart doesn't plan for a flip. At least not to in-state schools like Baylor, which offered but “changed their recruiting;” Texas A&M, which Stewart doesn't like; or Texas, which Stewart really doesn't like. Stewart thought the Longhorns were going to offer him when they asked him to attend a recent camp. He expected a conversation with Mack Brown. The offer and the talk never came.
“Texas lied big-time,” Stewart said.
Ron Brown, who every year seems to significantly click with a few skill player recruits, did not.
“He's a cool coach,” said Stewart, who plans to make his official visit this fall. “He really cares about his players.”
NU focused on defense
Stewart's commitment put Nebraska in relatively good shape on offense heading into the back half of July, when the Huskers have to pull back on recruiting to, you know, build a football team in fall camp. The defensive side remains in flux, with just two recruits — Lincoln Southeast's Luke Gifford and Pflugerville, Texas, cornerback Trai Mosley — in the fold. Defensive line is still a key need, with NU trying again, after zero success last year, to land a junior college tackle.
Two targets — Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College's Abu Lamin and Mesa (Ariz.) Community College's Claude Pelon — top the list. Lamin — the 6-5, 315-pound giant who should have three years to play at the BCS level — has Nebraska in his top group with five SEC schools. A pipeline from Fort Scott to NU in recent years — Lavonte David, Brandon Kinnie, Yoshi Hardrick and Stanley Jean-Baptiste have all started in Lincoln — is a key reason why. But Lamin has another.
“Ndamukong Suh,” he said in a phone interview. “He was a great player before, but they taught him up in his technique and turned him into an animal.”
I expected a Suh bounce in defensive line recruiting immediately after his departure. I recall then-recruiting coordinator Ted “The Professor” Gilmore expecting the same. But Suh's name seems to have more traction now, with current targets. Could be the NFL career. Could be that Suh didn't really grab college football by the proverbial collar until halfway through his senior season, when most 2010 and some 2011 recruits already had their minds set on attending somewhere else.
At any rate, NU is in it with a kid who otherwise has his eyes cast toward the SEC — specifically South Carolina — because of the league's “variety of NFL athletes.” These juco guys, almost invariably, are tough to pull from their home region without a compelling reason to do so. Mississippi-born Hardrick turned down LSU, true — but that's because David, foolishly spurned by his hometown Miami (Fla.), headed to Nebraska. And David took a shine to Lincoln in part because Kinnie, a Kansas City kid and natural leader, helped recruit him there. It's a domino deal. What's the domino that gets Nebraska a more dominant defensive line?
Even if the Huskers woo Pelon or Lamin, look for more offers to head out. And look for a lot of attention to be focused on Aug. 30, when Hiawatha (Kan.) defensive tackle Peyton Newell announces his college choice. It's hard to bet against Nebraska there, and I won't. But Newell alone won't finish the class.
Carr commits to SDSU
One of the top Nebraska high school players came off the board Thursday when Omaha Burke cornerback Trey Carr committed to South Dakota State. Husker Online was the first to report the commitment. The Jackrabbits have former Burke offensive coordinator Daniel Jackson on staff as a defensive graduate assistant.
Carr's good enough to play at the FCS level — and the SDSU offer may have been there later in the process. And yet, it's understandable that Carr wants to end the recruiting process and get a shot at playing very early in Brookings, S.D., as opposed to potentially waiting several years to play at a place like Iowa or Iowa State.
Around the nation
>> Millard West lineman Harrison Phillips announces his college decision Monday. His top six: Duke, Kansas State, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Stanford and UCLA. Will the Huskers' late offer be enough to sway the 6-4 250-pounder? Remember that he spent a week at Stanford, on his own dime. That's no lark.
An education on “The Farm” is legit. I think the 4-3/3-4 debate is a little overcooked. This isn't Tony Dungy vs. Dick LeBeau here. One of the treats of college football is its democracy, its still-relative lack of clinical, dispassionate analysis popularized in the NFL. Phillips could find his place in either system.
>> Wisconsin landed its quarterback for the 2014 cycle in Jacksonville (Fla.) four-star D.J. Gillins, a 6-3 195-pounder who missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL. He threw for 58 touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore against what his highlight film shows to be poor competition. Still, he gets rid of the ball quickly and buys time with his feet. He reminds me of former Husker Brion Carnes.
>> Northwestern beat out SMU for Frisco, Texas, three-star linebacker Noah Westerfield (6-3, 210); Penn State landed Millville, N.J., three-star defensive tackle Antoine White (6-3, 265); Iowa got a commit from Allen, Texas, unrated kicker Mick Ellis; Purdue beat Missouri and others for St. John, Ind., three-star defensive end Gelen Robinson (6-2, 232), who's the son of former Boilermaker basketball star Glenn Robinson; Indiana may have to fight hard to hold on to Fort Wayne, Ind., three-star commit Donovan Clark (5-10, 175), an impressive athlete who may draw more offers during the fall; finally, Illinois got commits from Chicago Mt. Carmel three-star athlete Matt Domer (6-0, 180), who picked the Illini over Syracuse, and three-star suburban Chicago athlete Julian Hylton (6-1, 180), who camped at Nebraska as a defensive back but didn't get an offer. NU zeroed in on current commit Mosley, instead.
>> Nationally, future Nebraska nonconference opponents Miami (Fla.) (2014 and 2015) and Tennessee (2016 and 2017) continue to cobble together strong classes with 20 and 18 commits, respectively. The Hurricanes have recruited especially well on the offensive and defensive lines in their home state, getting five-star offensive tackle KC McDermott out of West Palm Beach and high four-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine out of Hialeah. Both had offers to Alabama. The Volunteers have loaded up on offensive weapons, including two running backs, two tight ends and at least three wide receivers.
>> Yet another top-rated quarterback transferred from Texas. This week it's Connor Brewer. That makes six — Brewer, Connor Wood (Colorado), Garrett Gilbert (SMU), Sherrod Harris (quit and works for Sony), G.J. Kinne (Tulsa) and Jevan Snead (Ole Miss) — since the end of the 2006 season who have left UT's program. Another, John Chiles, moved to wide receiver. That's one five-star recruit, four four-star recruits and two three-star recruits. I must, of course, point out that, since 2006, Nebraska watched Harrison Beck, Patrick Witt, Cody Green and Carnes transfer from the program while Jamal Turner switched to wide receiver, Bubba Starling chose baseball and Kody Spano retired because of ACL tears in both knees.
Remember that when Tommy Armstrong, Johnny Stanton and Zack Darlington duel next spring.
The only three Texas recruits who are likely to finish their whole careers in Austin? Colt McCoy, younger brother Case McCoy, and David Ash. Consensus three-star recruits.
Remember that next time you grade quarterback signees by what some service thinks of them.